It’s Nicklas Backstrom’s Number Week, and the Washington Capitals celebrated their favorite soothsaying garden gnome by winning two of their three games. They did not celebrate Andre Burakovsky’s birthday, on which they lost by one goal in overtime to the sixth in the Atlantic Division Florida Panthers. When will this team learn what middle ground means?
In games three, four, and five of the season-record six game homestand, the Capitals faced Vancouver, Colorado, and Florida, and won somewhat predictably and lost as they usually do – after coming back two to three times in unpredictable and unexplainable ways and then falling flat on their faces at the last possible moments. While the Capitals in February are a lot easier to stomach than they were in early November, the last time they were five games into a homestand, there’s always room for improvement.
With the trade deadline quickly approaching and bottom six winger Andre Burakovsky, rumoured to be out of D.C. before the season ends, being given as much ice time as he can handle, it’s hard to believe that no shenanigans are afoot. As anyone who’s followed this team for more than a few weeks knows, shenanigans are the lifeblood of this team and their management. A storm is coming and we are not prepared.
There’s officially only two weeks until the trade deadline. Are you ready?
Record: 30-18-7 (Home: 16-9-5 / Away: 13-9-2)
Standing: 2nd Metropolitan / 6th Eastern
Goals For: 186
Goals Against: 176
- Goals: Alex Ovechkin (37)
- Assists: John Carlson (41)
- Points: Alex Ovechkin (61)
- PIM: Tom Wilson (75)
A large part of the narrative surrounding this game centered around Jay Beagle — how it would feel for Beags to return to his old stomping grounds, how it would feel to be on the opposite side of the ice from the organization with whom he won Kelly, Calder, and Stanley Cups, and how the fans who adored him would receive him in a different jersey. And for Jay Beagle, though he didn’t make an impact in the scoreboard, the night probably went all right. He had an emotional videoboard tribute, his old captain stopped by to say hello, and the city of Washington D.C. reminded him how much he was missed.
And then the Caps played their usual brand of hockey and did very little until the third period other than taking penalties, and somehow still won against a Vancouver Canucks team that’s fourth in the extremely competitive Pacific Divi– oh, forget it, even I don’t believe in the Pacific enough to make statements like that.
T.J. Oshie opened up the scoring for the Capitals, proving that reuniting the 8-19-77 line always gets you results, as 8 and 19 collected assists on the goal, and put Alex Ovechkin ahead of Sergei Fedorov with 1,180 career points, making him the all-time Russian points leader in the NHL. Thirty-nine seconds later, to celebrate his teammate and countryman’s achievement, Birdman found himself in the sin bin for hooking, after a week of Ominous Comments by Todd Reirden and the players about being more mindful about what penalties they take, when they take them, and the impact of those penalties on their teammates. Thankfully, the power-play opportunity went uncontested, and other than a Nikolay Goldobin interference call, the first was rather immemorable.
And the second followed that pattern, with Vancouver getting a second power-play on a Michal Kempny hooking call and not converting. (Side note: The only person with more penalty minutes than Michal Kempny is Tom Wilson. If you’re in second place behind Tom Wilson in any category, especially penalty minutes? Maybe it’s time to reconsider your life decisions.) Through two periods, only one goal was scored. And you’d think, at that point, oh, wow, this is about to be a 1-0 game. Both sides combined will score maybe three, maybe four goals.
And then everybody woke up for the third period.
Connolly got his tenth of the season five minutes and forty-seven seconds into the frame, from Kuznetsov and Vrana. About two and a half minutes later, Markus Granlund scored Vancouver’s first of the game, from Hutton and Roussel. Not to be outdone by Antoine Roussel, Jakub Vrana scored his sixteenth, from Kuznetsov and Wilson, and though Pettersson forced one (his twenty-fourth!) through for Vancouver with eight seconds to go, it was too late to send the game to overtime.
The Capitals took only two penalties, an impressive figure for them, but a more active first forty minutes could’ve done them some favors. Coasting on the assumption that you’ll have a two goal plus third period and wrap things up works as long as the other team doesn’t also score two goals. If the Caps didn’t have the Oshie goal from the beginning of the game, this match would’ve gone to overtime. It’s too much of a risk. Playing the full sixty minutes is something players throw out during interviews all the time, but the Capitals need to figure it out quick. The end of the regular season is quickly approaching, and if they want to be in a good playoff position, they better act fast.
The Capitals hit the thirty win mark with an overtime thriller capped off by a Birdman goal, and like I mentioned earlier, the same old track played again, this time with some funny new quirks. Ended the first period with a 1-0 goal, nothing of real consequence in the second period (though PP1 did strike again — that’s good), and then the other team having a two goal third period. The difference that sent this game to overtime is that Colorado had a two goal third period, and Washington did not. After leading the first two periods, Washington let themselves get washed out in the third. Walking away with the W is a positive, but the team could honestly make these easier for themselves.
Andre Burakovsky scored his seventh of the season six and a half minutes into the first, from Oshie and Niskanen, and other than an ineffectual power-play for either side, the first period closed with the Capitals ahead by one, and Burakovsky on the board no less.
The second period began, thirty-five seconds in, with Nathan MacKinnon’s twenty-eighth goal of the season, from Barrie and Landeskog, once again proving how dominant the Av’s top line (and top D pair) is. Washington got called for delay of game after MacKinnon’s goal, but kept the game tied. Seven minutes into the second, Ian Cole took the first of his penalties for the night — a tripping call — and Evgeny Kuznetsov saw, came, and conquered, scoring his eleventh of the season from Ovechkin and Carlson. Thrilled by having gotten a power-play goal at all, the Capitals proceeded to waste their next two power play opportunities (an interference call against Zadorov at 13:27 and a tripping call against Nathan MacKinnon at 16:31, both minors). The second period ended with the Capitals ahead by one, and knowing a strong third period could bring the game home easily.
And then they proceeded to do the opposite of that. Matt Niskanen scored his eighth of the season from Vrana and Kuznetsov thirty-four seconds in, and that was the last Capitals goal until Kuznetsov’s tally in overtime. Landeskog was caught playing hooky (ha ha) at 2:40, which the power-play did not convert, still high off their earlier success, but Colorado got their revenge with Mikko Rantanen’s twenty-fourth of the season, which not only cut the Capitals’ lead to one, but earned Landeskog another assist.
And then Ian Cole reappeared in a very big way. At 11:18 of the third period, Ian Cole thought it would be a good idea to blindside Tom Wilson’s linemate, teammate, and presumably friend (?) Evgeny Kuznetsov. Now, as we’ve all learned, that’s never a good idea. Between Tom’s hilariously bad impulse control, his tendency to overvalue threats to his own or his teammates’ safety, and the sheer danger of talking crap to Tom Wilson, you think it’d give anyone pause.
Not Ian Cole.
And so, unsurprisingly, this happened.
Cole couldn’t even get his arm free, and on top of that, left the ice with a game misconduct. (And Tom, rightfully, got called for instigation and fighting and was assessed a misconduct [10 minutes with immediate on ice substitution] penalty for his behavior.)
Kuznetsov returned from the concussion spotters with a clean bill of health, giving players and fans alike a gem of a quote about the importance of the medical profession.
The return of Birdman, unfortunately, was not enough to keep the Capitals in the lead. With only a few seconds over two minutes to spare, Colin Wilson put a pass from Matt Calvert past Copley to send the game to overtime.
Thankfully, the return of Birdman was just enough to get them out of it — four minutes and twelve seconds into the five minutes three on three overtime, Alex Ovechkin fed Evgeny Kuznetsov for the game winning goal, and the Capitals took home their second W of the week.
Sometimes, you think “oh, it’s only the Florida Panthers, who are obviously vying for Jack Hughes next year, so let’s go by, say good luck, and boost up that goal differential” before a game starts. And sometimes, you’ve got real life obligations, so you put your phone down for a bit and go do Adult Things TM. And sometimes, you’re incredibly, dreadfully wrong.
You think working a weekend shift will be okay, and it never, ever, ever is. Learn from my mistakes.
The Panthers struck twice in the span of forty-five seconds in the opening period, the first by Frank Vatrano (who I honestly thought was still on the Bruins, but is apparently an 18 goal winger on the Panthers?) and the second by noted NHL All Star Keith Yandle.
Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky provided some highlight reel heroics to bring the Capitals within one, but their efforts were quashed by Colton Sceviour, whose name I only know because I used to hear it on NHL 17 Let’s Plays a lot. Lars Eller, thankfully, knows the Dramatic Potential of a good comeback, and scored his seventh of the season from Dowd and Connolly to help the Capitals exit the second period down three goals to two.
And then, as it so often does, the third period happened, and more intensely than the Capitals bargained for, but this time, the scales were tipped in their favor. Derick Brassard scored his tenth of the season to bring the Panthers up to four goals for the night, but Connolly came back to give himself a two goal night (the third of his career!). Burakovsky got to kill a man. And with less than four minutes to go, Evgeny Kuznetsov sent the game to overtime, from Orlov and Ovechkin.
The miracle comeback wasn’t to be — the Panthers got a power-play opportunity, and Yandle, Barkov and Hoffman put the puck in the back of the net a minute and thirty-one seconds into the game, ruining Andre Burakovsky’s birthday.
Next Week’s Games
- 11th February: Los Angeles Kings @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST
- 12th February: Washington Capitals @ Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:00pm EST
- 14th February: Washington Capitals @ San Jose Sharks, 10:30pm EST
- 17th February: Washington Capitals @ Anaheim Ducks, 9:00pm EST
Los Angeles Kings
A child could tell you how this is going to go.
The Los Angeles Kings have impressively secured 8th place in the notoriously mercurial Pacific Division and, even though things in the West seem to change at the drop of a hat, the Kings have remained stubbornly immune, going 16-19-3 since Willie Desjardins took over in November. The Capitals play them twice in seven days’ time — once at Capital One Arena on the 11th of February to close out their homestand, and again on the 18th of February as they swing through California to wrap up their season series against the Sharks, Ducks, and Kings.
The Caps are likely going to win this one as long as they don’t grow complacent and shit the bed, as they have an unfortunate and well documented tendency of doing. Don’t eat the garbage, boys. It’s tempting and I know you love it, but maybe go for the salad this time. I promise, it might not feel good going in, but it’ll sure feel better on the way out.
The Capitals will finish their season series against Los Angeles in LA on the 18th of February, to start out Week Twenty-One.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Hey, just for a friend, what’s happening in Columbus?
Panarin’s switched agents to join Bobrovsky in the care of infamous abuse apologist Paul Theofanous, spurring speculation that they might be shipped out of Columbus as a package. Blue Jackets (31-20-3) don’t seem to be taking the off ice drama personally, though, trashing the Golden Knights with scoring consistency just as the Capitals were getting schooled by Florida Panthers. They don’t play again until the Caps come visiting on the twelfth, and the Caps better stay careful and keep on their toes — the Blue Jackets are full of guys who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and if they don’t stay hungry for a win, the Capitals’ inconsistency could really take them for a spin.
San Jose Sharks
The Capitals are coming to SAP Center, and for some ridiculous reason, I’m choosing to be there too. This is going to cause me an ungodly amount of anxiety, but I’m excited to see countrymen Tomas Hertl and Jakub Vrana do some hockey acrobatics in real time! The Sharks, even without All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson, are flourishing, currently sitting on thirty-three wins total, two ahead of the Capitals. Fresh off a 5-2 rout of the Edmonton Oilers, the Sharks play the Canucks in Vancouver on the eleventh before they come back home to face the Capitals. With a new, deeper lineup featuring point per game center Tomas Hertl, will the Capitals be able to keep up with the Sharks’ speed, energy, and scoring talent? Or will the Sharks’ defense pale in comparison to the Capitals’ “four and a half forwards who were probably, like, tall as kids and got typecast as defensemen but just don’t feel it’s right to, you know, pigeonhole people like that in such an early stage of their growth journey”?
Whatever it is, it’s going to be wild, hilarious, and nothing short of a rocking good time.
Good news: Randy Carlyle’s finally fired!
Bad news: Bob Murray’s taking over as Head Coach, in addition to being GM and Executive VP.
Something smells fishy with the Anaheim Ducks, and I don’t want to be looking at it when it goes belly up.
Thankfully, if the Capitals score early and often (as the Central Division learned at the All-Star game), John Gibson is easily defeated, and the rest of the team will take themselves down. This is the time to practice mind games. This is the time to demoralize, destroy, and maybe test out some cool tricks in situations that may not immediately result in turnovers being converted into goals.
The Caps have this one in the bag if they keep on their game and strike early and often. It’s just, you know, the striking part that’s going to be a problem. Please practice the power-play. Please. I’m begging you.
This Week In Review
As the trade deadline approaches and Brooks Orpik somehow, puzzlingly, remains unwaived, untraded, and treated like a better defenseman than Jonas Siegenthaler (who’s been sent down to Hershey now that the Djoos is once again loose in D.C.). I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather see Siegenthaler on the team ahead of Orpik (and maybe even Bowey, but Bowey’s got Youth and Potential, both things Orpik left by the wayside years ago). I imagine Siegenthaler isn’t gone for the season — injuries happen, and I doubt he won’t be called up for a deep playoff run, if one is in the cards, but it’s disappointing to see him riding the bench or down in Hershey when he’s proven himself more capable than at least one Caps defenseman getting regular minutes for being a leader in the room, whatever that means.
Christian Djoos returned from LTIR and a conditioning loan to Hershey this week after a frightening experience with compartment syndrome. Hopefully he continues to do well! The Capitals are 0-0-1 with him on the roster (literally just the Panthers game), so hopefully he’ll help improve that record over the next week. He looked good on the third pair with (barf) Orpik, or as good as anyone can possibly look playing with Brooks Orpik, so hopefully he finds himself feeling as good as he used to (or maybe even better!) soon!
I imagine the Capitals, much like their fans, are going to be relieved once the trade deadline has passed, but the remainder of the regular season has no shortage of tough games. And in a competitive division like the Metropolitan, the Capitals know better than to stumble and lose their footing. The time for games has passed — it’s time to buckle down and go to work, so play a two hundred foot game for the full sixty minutes and get those pucks in deep, boys!
It’s a road trip with the Washington Capitals next week, and West Coast sunshine (and maybe some bonus intermittent pouring rain) isn’t any excuse for phoning it in.
(Picture Credit: NHL.com)